This year three major celebrations of the 70 year fashion design career of Pierre Cardin took place in America and Europe.  On January 5 the Brooklyn Museum wrapped up a 6 month exhibition, Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion, the first New York retrospective in forty years to focus on the legendary couturier. On February 5 the docu-film House of Cardin, that traces the extraordinary life of the fashion designer and couturier, was released and premiered in Paris in September 20 with a special evening in honor of Pierre Cardin at the Théâtre du Châtelet. Pierre Cardin is 98 years old. 


What forms us is the desire to succeed, what doesn’t destroy us,  “constructs” us. Pierre Cardin life began at a rough start. At the age of two he fled Mussolini’s Italy with his family and settled in France. Cardin escaped poverty, terrorism, war. The tragedy and injustice that surrounded him as a young child and teen-ager ignited in him a desire to succeed. What Cardin accomplished in his long life is unimaginable. He created a larger than life label and is still the most prize winning designers of the century.

Pierre Cardin acknowledged his difficult beginnings as a 2-year old emigré who grew up in Nazi France and was called up for compulsory labour in German factories,  as the original source of his success. He honored that part of his life by creating, in 1959, the first prêt-a-porter fashion, accessible collections to a wider public giving everybody a chance to look and feel beautiful, fashionable by wearing clothes with a recognizable label.  He defined himself as the first socialist in a capitalist’s fashion world.

“In 1959 I asked myself why should only the rich be able to afford exclusive fashion, why not the man and woman on the street as well? I can change that! And I did. Luxury should be affordable for millions of people”. 

I know a lot of people who would disagree with him. But Cardin’s insight enabled him to create a Fashion empire that still survives and thrives. 


This Italian naturalized French, was the man of many firsts: he was the first couturier to open a haute couture store in Japan in 1959. As mentioned, the same year, breaking the rules of Haute Couture that cost him his place at the Chambre Syndacale de la Haute Couture, he revolutionized fashion’s elitist premises by presenting the first prêt-a-porter collection in fashion history in the Parisian department Store Au Printemps followed by the first men’s ready-to-wear collection in 1960 and the first to stage a runway show for men.

Cardin combined miniskirts and over-dimensioned coats and created the hooped dress. In 1977 he launched the prêt-a-couture collections that collocated themselves between the exclusivity of haute couture and the accessible prêt-a-porter; he designed collarless shirt for men: he mixed vinyl and artificial leather with jerseys, invented Monochrome and patterned tights, thigh length boots, unisex skin tight body suits interpreting the times of changing gender roles. In 1970 he created space suits for NASA. 


Cardin was also the first to brand his name by placing his logo on a variety of objects, from playing cards and key rings to skis and planes. He also placed them on perfumes. 


Pierre Cardin wash the first designer to open a conversation on equality in fashion, blurring the conventional boundaries of women and men’s fashion be developing gender neutral lines. He would proceed also to revolutionize fashion communication by embracing inclusivity of ethnicity in the fashion industry on a global scale in an era which race issues were still a strong taboo.  He desired to embrace the whole world with his clothing by tearing down the walls of consolidated discriminations on status and race. In this sense he was a futurist.



Cardin’s interest in science and space translated in his futuristic designs inspired by geometric forms and technology. He anticipated the future by creating a physical fashion proof of what he envisioned to be future styles in 40 or 50 years. The evening dresses he designed were for women that he wanted to look as if wearing galaxies so that when they moved through space they could sparkle like the stars.

Most designers look at the past or other cultures as sources of inspiration, others like André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin just stared at the sky, gazed at the infinity of the universe and let their imagination grab the shapes of the Cosmo and dress them in daring colors, geometric forms and metallic elements. They were the emblematic fashion designers of the sixties who kept their eyes fixed in the sky or scrutinizing the future, envisioning a reality they could gift to the present, imagining the woman of tomorrow and bringing her to the present. 

They broke all fashion conventions. Shortened the hemline to a height never imagined before, not even in the roaring twenties.

Early 1900’s Futurist fashion never turned into any important fashion collection. It was more a fashion expression of the Futurist Manifesto. Pierre Cardin created a style, as did the Futurist with the machine age, that captured the Space thrill and transformed it into commercially successful and artistically memorable collections.

“Haute couture is a creative laboratory where forms and volumes can be studied. the immensity of the universe and microscopy of the cell, computers, geometry: these are the sources of my inspiration. the garments I prefer are those I create for tomorrow’s world…The clothes that I prefer are those I Invent for a life that doesn’t exist yet.”


Pierre Cardin’s creativity is expressed in a basic formal language of geometry that communicates through fashion, design, decorative arts, accessories, jewelry. He doesn’t design, he sculpts and animates his plastic sculptures with the forms inspired by the orbits, the planets, the galaxies. 

His signature elements of his Hard-edged futuristic creations were asymmetrical necklines, giant sculptured collars, scalloped edges, fan-pleated panels, fastening of rouleau ties or emphatic buttons. 


“One should not be influenced but should influence. One can only survive with originality, and not with copies. When copying something, one is at best the second. I wanted to be the first.”

Cardin always adapted his style to social changes, always keeping the pulse of the times without contradicticting his aesthetic principles but evolving his geometric and plastic forms:  tubular capes, bubble dresses, mixing colors with non colors, plastic with leather. Cardin  played with belts, jewelry, collars, sleeves, buttons, hats,  bags, eyeglasses and other accessories to create a futuristic fantasy world inhabited by extremely feminine women. 

An Iconic style that never went out of fashion and has been imitated over and over.

Pierre Cardin’s favourite geometric shape, the circle, assumed a greater relevance than the square or the triangle. Cardin believes that the square hides, while the circle represents infinity.

“The circle is the symbol of eternity. I am a Pierrot Lunaire who is fascinated by the Cosmos. I love the circle. The moon, the sun, the earth are pure creations, boundless, without beginning and end.”


The  fifties marked the rise of a new generation of innovative designers. The first significant signs of Cardin’s  successful futurist styles were his Bubble Dresses in 1954 and the Ascher’ Kilcardie mohair and nylon bouclé balloon coats in 1958 followed by puff ball panniers in 1960.

In way. Cardin did for women of the late fifties and sixties what Paul Poiret did in the early 1900’s. He freed women from constriction.

“Luxury is connected with the freedom of the body. Women work, travel, play sport and pursue a career. Therefore luxury is a question of the spirit animating the body.” 


The sixties was a decade of epic change and extremes, of culture and counterculture,and a defining one for fashion styles.  It was a period of radical rupture with the prevailing trends and tastes that had Youth as its driving force and source of inspiration, a climate in which youth fashion flourished, youth as the new influential class. Tom Wolfe interpreted this trend in the Purple Decade:

 “Once it was power that created high-style, but now high style comes from low places…from people who are marginal…who carve out worlds for themselves…out of the other world of modern teenage life, out of what was for years the marginal outcast corner of the world of art, photography, populated by poor boys.”

Linda Watson in “20th Century Fashion” also captures the spirit of the age: 

“The 1960’s turned every preconceived idea on its head. As fashion zoomed into overdrive, everything whined in reverse. The teenager, previously persona non grata, had opinions and public power. Makeup turned from haughty to baby looks. Models played gauche, boutiques mixed genders, and unisex mad an entrance. Secondhand clothes, once associated with charity and poverty, were chic and eclectic. Paris, veering towards a Left-Bank, existentialist look, was called ‘no dictator, but gentle persuader’”.

The spirit that animated people recalls the post World War I Roaring Twenties’ joyfulness, the similar sense of liberation.

Within the tumultuous years that saw political, social and philosophical upheavals, a space rage that started with Russia hurling Yuri Gargarin into orbit to circumnavigate the earth paving the way to a fierce competition with America and continued in 1965 with Stanley Kubrick’ cult movie 2001-A space Odyssey; the Vietnam War and its anti-demonstrations, student rebellions in Paris, interest in Eastern philosophies and communal living….  surged a new generation of artists and fashion designers, courageous innovators that creatively supplanted the stiffer garments of the 1950’s.

The era of Space travels, Pop art, revivals, the hippy movement, the return of the Dandy,  a craze for individuality, all stepped on the catwalk which, in those years, was characterized by a variety of styles never quite seen before: ethnic, futuristic, hippy, psychedelic geometries, echoing the credos of the youth that rebelled against all expressions of authority: parents, church, state, education and living a life with music as their new cult.


Cardin intercepted and interpreted beforehand the spirit and the new trends of the decades he fashioned. He lead the way in sporting looks – used as everyday wear – and dashing space age clothes that reflected the body-revealing obsession of the era. 

Mora than any other fashion designer, Cardin saw in the spreading interest in space a creative opportunity and looked at space for inspiration. His 1967 he releases his unisex Cosmos range. 


THE 70s and the 80s

The 1970s, as a violent reaction to the futuristic fashions of the 60s, saw a return to more sober trends yet explosive hippy and folk styles emerged.  Throughout his long creative life Cardin continued to create powerful geometric shapes, remaining faithful to his rigorous concepts of form, and did not embrace the ethnic craze of the decade. In the 70’s he infused his collections with the dynamism and excitement of the era and of the new expressivity of art forms generated by the natural everyday natural, physical, chemical and biological processes: Land Art, light art, video art, concept art, laser art.


The individualistic trends of the sixties also lead in the 70s to a more environment conscientious philosophy. The streets became the stage for environmental protection, women’s rights and anti-atomic and vivisection demonstrations. Realism invades filmmaking and deformation was the new law in fashion.

In the 70’s Cardin introduced other new  “Firsts”: the batwing sleeves in aeronautical dimensions, the pagoda shoulder – which dipped from the collar to the shoulder’s widest point, then peaked to soar like an eagle’s wing – was inspired by a trip to China in 1978, he  introduced slits to animate sheath dresses, animated geometric forms with pompons and fringes and cut men’s trousers under the knee. In 1977 and 1979 he was awarded the Golden Thimble by the French Haute Couture for the most creative collection of the season. 

In 1980 computer technology inspired the finned back panels of his colored wool coats and hula hoop overskirts where another of his inventions.  Like Balenciaga before him, he concentrated in emphasizing the value of the sleeves and collars, that in Cardin’s case extended from neck to waist and anchored by buttons to create a Calla Lily-like shape around the head. 


His geometrical, asymmetric and abstract forms of the day and evening ensembles were also emphasized by the conical and domed hats, winged helmets and angular clutch bags.  And like Schiaparelli, with whom he worked for a short time before going solo, Cardin winked at surrealist art in producing men’s shoes with toes, a fantasy inspired by Rene Magritte’s paintings, in which clothes take on the characteristic of their wearer. 

Other sources of inspiration were Japanese origami for his conic broad-shouldered jackets, Chinese architecture, and American football uniforms.

More expert fashion authors than me describe in much better detail the iconic forms of Cardin’s fashion language. These two books are detailed written and visual journeys of the innovations he always brought to his style. 


But his ambition and his imaginative mind, went beyond fashion. From automobile and airplane interior design, to fruit, flower and food boutiques under the  Maxim’s label,  to “Utilitarian Sculptures” his first haute-couture furniture collection in 1977.


The 80’s witnessed another successful venture as businessman and product designer. In 1981 he purchased the legendary Maxim’s, the world-famous restaurant on the Rue Royale, and developed from it a global product brand that named also hotels in Paris, Palm Springs and New York and a line of perfumes and champagnes carrying the name Maxim’s all over the globe. 


Many of Cardin’s designs “challenged the divide between applied and fine arts.” A recognition of the art of dress came in 1982 when Pierre Cardin was invited to the Salon D’Automne to show a retrospective of Haute Couture. The praise by the President Monsieur Mac Avoi stated: 

“We painters and sculptures use canvas and marble for our creation whereas Pierre Cardin creates on living material…”.


The nineties was the decade in which Pierre Cardin received some of the greatest recognitions for his 40 year activity and organized fashion shows in a grandeur that opened the way to future  spectacularized runways performed in historical locations. 


In 1990 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London paid tribute to the great designer with a retrospective of his career that was followed in 1991 with another one at the Museum of Fine Arts of Montreal. The same year 200.000 people united on Moscow’s Red Square for his fashion show. He was made Officer of the Légion d’Honneur, another retrospective in Tokyo followed by a fashion show in the royal Sennyuji Temple.

But the achievement he is most proud of is being accepted into the Academie des Beaux Arts. He always considered himself an artist and this spirit is “incarnated” in his sculptural collections.


During his school years in St. Etienne, a coal-mining town in eastern central France, Cardin was drawn to the world of theatre and ballet, and particularly fascinated by the costumes and set designs. 

On September 3 1951 Carlos de Beistegui, the enigmatic heir to an agricultural fortune, held a spectacular masked costume ball at the Palazzo Labia in Venice. At the time, Cardin was working his apprenticeship at Christian Dior’s who commissioned him to design the costumes for 30 of the high society personalities invited to the most remarkable ball of the century.  

Before turning to Haute Couture, Cardin began his career as a costume designer. He got off to a lucky start; in 1946 he was working at Jeanne Paqui’s atelier, in the very workroom in which Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard were conceiving the costumes for the surrealist film The Beauty and The Beast . Later he also designed costumes for Jean Cocteau’s Orphée. 

Cardin’s fascination for Theatre never wavered. In the sixties he designed the costumes for the British television series The Avengers and in 1970, Cardin, the costume designer, became theatre maker and art patron and founded, in a 1930’s building in the Champs Elysees neighborhood,  the Espace Cardin, an art and cultural center featuring a theatre, cinema, gallery, exhibition hall, and restaurant. 

Pierre Cardin recalls in his book in Espace Pierre Cardin (Gourcuff Graden publisher,2016 ) the reactions to this new adventure: 

“Quelle drôle d’idée, Pierre Cardin, dans le théâtre… Excellant dans la mode, qu’est-il allé faire dans cette aventure ? Voilà ce que disaient certains de mes collègues, quand je décidais de redonner vie à un théâtre parisien qui s’endormait quelque peu… Chaque jour, je franchissais la Seine, ce fleuve de vie et de mémoire, qui traversa Lutèce, puis Paris. JE rêvais, à chaque passage, des ombres des anciens Parisiens, qui allaient vers le Garde-meuble royal et puis ce théâtre, au nom magique, évoquant un peu Chateaubriand, un peu Aristide Briand, le Théâtre des Ambassadeurs… En bas des Champs-Elysées, je savais alors, parce que je passais devant chaque jour, ou presque, que la Ville de Paris possédait cette scène de choix, où depuis la guerre, on donnait de nombreuses productions théâtrales et musicales d’une grande originalité. Il y avait le théâtre et le restaurant qui l’accompagnaient. Le pas-de-porte était à vendre… En achetant le droit au bail, j’allais pouvoir devenir producteur et concepteur d’une multitude de représentations artistiques. Passeur et acteur dans mes créations, mon futur théâtre allait devenir un formidable moyen d’écoute et d’exhibition, qui allait me permettre de produire et de créer, là, un répertoire d’événements pouvant être classés parmi les plus importants de la culture contemporaine universelle. Quarante-cinq ans plus tard, je ne pensais pas que tout ceci m’entraînerait aussi loin. Si c’était à refaire ? Sans l’ombre d’une hésitation, je signerais de nouveau. Immédiatement. Comme j’aime souvent à le dire : “L’art est ma passion. C’est un accompagnement de toute ma vie. 


Pierre Cardin has been often criticizes for spawning extensively hundreds of licenses without much care to the low quality of the outcome of most of them. But it is a superficial, “banker” mentality judgment about what Cardin himself confirmed to being a necessary compromise in order to maintain his unique creative freedom and a solid financial balance to support his visionary ideas and projects. 

Sometimes to continue to build and grow a dream one must reach unsought after compromises.  The one Pierre Cardin made was the best possible choice in order to protect a creative and financial independence. That choice was another futuristic idea that enabled his unmeasurable achievements. 

He trusts himself more than banks. Chapeau Monsieur Cardin.

“I had everything I wanted, in love, in work, in creation, in travel, in knowledge, in relationships. I knew Fidel Castro, Gandhi, all the great ones of the world, wealth, work, happiness, love, everything, recognition too. I do not regret anything.” Interview on The Financial Times by Harriet Agnew, 8 november 2019



A visual examination of 40 years of Cardin’s fashion innovations from the 1950s through to the 1990s complemented by an article tracing his development. Publication coincides with the Pierre Cardin retrospective exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. 190 pages of photo history of the Futurist designer.


Five decades of creativity collected and described. The book is the first complete retrospective of Pierre Cardin who has been at the forefront of fashion for over fifty years. It is packed with magnificent images of his iconic creations, arranged thematically,acocmpanied by a detailed essay on his career and collections and features scores of photographs of Cardin and his millieu.


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